Interviewing Witnesses in Another Country
Chasing fraudsters and conducting international due diligence often requires travel to personally interview principals, witnesses, and suspects. The process is costly and time consuming, but can produce an abundance of information if you prepare and execute correctly.
Know the background of all targets as well as the people you are going to be interviewing. A face-to-face interview is not the first thing you do, it’s one of the last things you do.
If a translator is required, be sure to select a translator that has an understanding of the topics you intend to cover. I have met many qualified translators who cannot translate language related to financial matters. A translation of words is not sufficient; the translator must also understand the nuances of the commercial dialect. When necessary, have your interviews observed by a native speaking ally with expertise in the specific field of inquiry.
Discuss your questions and what you expect as an acceptable response with the translator. Make sure the translator understands your questions, as well as how to prompt for background information. It is frequently the speaker’s intonation, phrasing, and context that define their message. This works both ways, and the interpreter must deliver your intent as competently as they read intent in a response.
Be sensitive to culture, especially in non-western countries. Acknowledgement of local customs, traditions, and taboos will help you move forward without unnecessary friction.
For translations, never use any employee of any entity that is part of the investigation – or anyone with an interest in the investigation.
Conducting the Interview
Ensure all of the procedures and processes comply with local laws. Few things can mess up a case faster than evidence obtained illegally — even when done with the best of intentions. If the facts are against your target, they will investigate how you got the facts!
Record the interview (audio at minimum) so that accuracy can be established post interview. There are times when translators will bend, muddle, embellish, or even prompt answers. In most cases with professional interpreters these exchanges are an attempt to bridge meaning where words or concepts do not translate well, but in other cases you may find the translator leading the testimony.
Make sure the interview room is comfortable, with a minimum of distractions. Conference rooms with large windows can produce anxiety and be very distracting – especially for the subject of the interview. Take breaks every so often and make sure food and refreshments are available.
Keep current contact information for everyone involved in the process so that if some post interview clarification is required it doesn’t require a return trip (we hope).